News & Views

Travel Cliché: The Battle Begins

You might be thinking, travel cliché? Not me! Take a look at your website, your media pitches, your brochures even, and you may find that you are guilty of using them. From “charming” villages to “cozy” hotel rooms, travel clichés are a sad reality in destination marketing. The good news is that you can change that pattern.

Writing comes as a challenge to many, and as an intuition to few. Chances are a trained writer has not crafted most of your materials and website. That’s OK, but let’s not settle for just OK. Your writing, whether it’s trying to entice consumers, travel advisors or the media, needs to be sharp, clear and concise. Part of that means cutting the fat – in this case, each and every travel cliché.

Why? A cliché does more harm than good. First, it prevents you from advertising the unique assets of your destination. By relying on words like “charming,” “beautiful,” “sun-soaked” or “pristine,” you’re not actually differentiating your destination or offer.

Second, a travel cliché is tired and over-used. Is this the image you want to promote for your destination? Think of clichés like old dusty hotel rooms that haven’t been remodeled since the 1980s. Now think about rolling around on that 40-year-old bedspread and walking barefoot on that carpet – gross, right? For readers, travel clichés are just as off-putting. It’s time for a fresh coat of paint.

Let’s look at some of the biggest offenders.

1. You’re not the “Mecca” of anything

Not only is this religious appropriation, but it doesn’t really mean anything. Seattle is not a Mecca for coffee drinkers. If you know what Mecca is, you’ll understand why this travel cliché is silly. First, that means that visitors will likely only go once in their life – not great messaging. Second, it means visitors are potentially risking a life-threatening stampeded to go there. That’s also not on brand.

Instead, describe the offer on hand. Tell us how many coffee shops Seattle has per capita, how that relates to other destinations, or how many roasters the city boasts. Use real examples instead of just a tired old cliché that really doesn’t mean anything to most people outside of Islam, and might actually offend those who understand the reference.

2. There are no “hidden gems”

Sorry. Good travel writers worldwide will happily die on this hill, and with good reason. Not only does this expression sound ridiculous and infantile, it’s simply never appropriate. For example, do you want to know more about these 20 Hidden Gem Parks in San Antonio? Come on now, really? Twenty hidden gems that are also public green spaces?

If it’s on Google Maps, chances are it’s not really hidden, and unless its polished and formed by centuries of geological processes, it’s not a gem.

Try a bit harder. What actually makes these things hidden or gemlike? Is it, in reality, the fact that only 100 people visit per year? Or maybe it has never appeared in a travel guide before? Or perhaps it’s only just opened to tourism in recent years. Do your homework and come up with some real evidence, and if you think calling it “off the beaten path” is the solution, think again.

3. “There’s something for everyone” is useless

What a great way to say absolutely nothing at all. Is there a destination that doesn’t have something for everyone? Have you ever visited a place and thought, wow, there’s absolutely nothing for me here? Did you just stand there in the void, waiting to leave?

It’s tempting to try and sell a destination to everyone, but instead, specify the offer. Propose what families can get out of it. Describe how couples will benefit concretely. Solo travelers might like your destination because of one thing, and then adventure seekers might like it for another. Be specific. Speak concretely. Avoid blanket statements that cover everything and show absolutely nothing.

4. “Authentic” is a lazy way to describe something else

“Authentic” has become the “literally” of travel writing. It’s never used accurately or consistently. Think about it. Is there really a way to go anywhere and do something – even at Disneyland – and not live an authentic experience? Riding “It’s a Small World” is still authentic, even if it’s authentic to Disneyland. It’s not fake. It’s not artifice. It’s not pretending to be an actual visit around the world. It’s a very real ride, literally.

This writer, for example, suggests that somehow Europe is more authentic in the winter, as if in the summer, it becomes something other than Europe. The argument is problematic at best, and useless at worst.

What the word “authentic” tries to do is, again, give another vague blanket statement to encapsulate something that the writer either couldn’t or didn’t want to try and explain. It’s fine. Writing’s tough. But let’s do better.

Instead of calling a restaurant authentic, put into word why it’s special. What are you really trying to say? It might be family-owned for three generations or the cuisine might be something only found in that region. Words like “authentic” – and to a lesser extent, “local” – are just a lazy writer’s favorite friends, and we’re here to say that it’s time to ditch them.

5. If it’s really “breathtaking,” then call a doctor

It’s funny how when we’re short of breath, we feel the need to see a specialist, yet we are more than happy to call destinations “breathtaking” to sell it. They aren’t. No one has ever looked upon the coastal beaches of California and suddenly clutched their chest wondering how the air was sucked from their lungs.

To be fair, this writer probably used the word correctly, considering the scene captured, so it’s not always a word to avoid. More often than not, however, this travel cliché needs to go.

When something is called breathtaking, step back and consider a better way to show what you mean, instead of just telling. Are you trying to describe the sheer 100-foot drop into the navy-blue sea below with waves crashing like white fireworks against the unwavering sandy brown rock formations? Flowery as it may be, it’s a more solid alternative to “breathtaking scenery.” There might not always be space to describe in full, but you can always do better than a travel cliché.

Having difficulty describing your destination? Concerned that you might be distinguishing yourself from the other “charming” and “beautiful” destinations out there? We can help. Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to discuss how DCI can help improve your marketing efforts.

Written By

Bryan Pirolli

As DCI's in-house Senior Writer, Bryan brings more than a decade of travel journalism experience to play when uncovering the next big story idea for our clients.

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